In a city that is well known for its transient artists and pockets of culture, it’s not surprising that some native talents slip under the radar. In the case of Lisa Bello, who started performing in talent shows from Downtown to Jamaica Plain as a kid in the ’90s, there’s also been the added wrinkle that she is a diva of the R&B variety in a place that’s perhaps best recognized as something of an indie rock hub.
These days, that’s all changing. At least for Bello. For the past six months, she has been touring the United States and Europe on the strength of her most recent album, Tommy Boy. The project cracked the top 10 on the iTunes R&B/Soul chart in May and has since opened new doors for her abroad as well as in her hometown, with Bello up for a Boston Music Award for R&B Artist of the Year on Dec 12.
We spoke with Bello fresh off of her Tommy Boy tour, which domestically included stops in cities from Chicago, to Philly, to Nashville, to Miami. She’s written and recorded tracks for years, but the singer said that spending so much time outside of Boston throughout 2018 has transformed her vibe dramatically. Even before hitting the road, Bello had a major life change, giving up her job as a teacher in Boston Public Schools to move down to Brooklyn and do music full time.
“I’m always telling a story that has something to do with my life, but [inspiration still comes from] the bits and pieces of everyone that I’ve encountered along the way,” Bello told the Dig.
Musically, her production shows that she draws inspiration from icons like Michael and Stevie, the latter of whom she has tattooed on her right hand. Bello also studies and admires fierce and legendary women such as Lauryn, Amy, and Janis, all of whom, like Bello, have memorable natural rasps in their voices.
While this latest buzz is welcome, the Hyde Park native hasn’t been a stranger to the Boston music scene and has performed at countless venues in the area—from clubs and theaters like the Orpheum and Wilbur, to Fenway Park and TD Banknorth Garden, where Bello has handled National Anthem duties. In 2011, she won Female Vocalist of the Year at the Boston Music Awards, and next week she’s hoping to take the trophy home for best R&B act.
Looking back on the year, Bello says she has gained a new self-confidence, opened her voice up a lot more, and evolved in how she approaches the stage.
“I was kind of just writing about random things, things I thought people wanted to hear,” Bello said. “I think the evolution comes as I’ve matured as a woman, as a mom. I write more personal things that I truly know affect people and myself.
“Having the feeling of seeing other people affected by my music is what drives me and makes me feel so passionate. It’s what makes me not want to give up.”
Bello says one of the biggest challenges she faces as a woman in the music biz is not being taken seriously enough as an artist. She has a team behind her but still plays the central role in her band’s DIY hustle, and in the process she’s been mistaken for everything from a noob to a groupie.
“I think we’ve come a long way,” says Bello, “but it’s still 2018, and I’m calling venues and they’re asking to speak to my manager or someone else, and it’s usually a man they’re looking to speak to.”
Bello is newly balancing the dual responsibilities of being both a mother and a full-time music maker. Her mornings include bringing her son to school and then heading to the studio. After years of teaching, she’s her own boss, and she says the key is being organized and seriously motivated.
As for meeting new fans and experiencing the world beyond Boston, Bello said she has already begun to incorporate new influences into her creative output. In that spirit, while on tour she tried to reflect both the fun and glamour as well as the real-life hardships in the songs that she was writing and on social media.
“Some cities treat us like gold—we were wearing white bath robes and galavanting around the hotel,” Bello said.
“In other cities, I was sleeping in airports.”
Check facebook.com/lisabellomusic for info on Lisa Bello’s Boston album release party this week.